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Throwback Thursday: Wallingford’s old electric works campus

Throwback Thursday: Wallingford’s old electric works campus

WALLINGFORD — A piece of local history was reduced to rubble last week when Public Works crews razed the century-old Civil Defense building as part of a series of demolition projects.

The building was located on the same Washington Street parcel as the Spanish Community of Wallingford. The site was the original home of the town’s electric division.

The Civil Defense building was built around 1915 as the Borough of Wallingford Electric Works office, next to the electricity generating plant that serves as SCOW’s facility today.

Robert Beaumont, Public Utilities Commission chairman and a town historian, talked to the Record-Journal Wednesday about the buildings and the formation of the electric division.

He said that in 1894, during the days when the town had a separate inner borough and outer farmland governments, people living in town circulated a petition for a municipal electric utility, and presented it to the state legislature in January 1895.

Although a vote the following month sent the proposal to the General Assembly, it died in committee.

In February 1899, after finally getting approval from the state to form a utility, $45,000 was bonded for construction of a coal-powered generating station on Washington Street.

Borough Electric Works went into operation in December 1899 with 36 residential and commercial customers. By 1902, it had 252 customers.

Customers initially had free service until February 1900, when the plant was turned over to a three-member board of commissioners to manage.

Borough Electric Works Superintendent Alfred L. Pierce was hired in October 1899, and kept the job until his retirement in 1953.

Demand for electricity kept growing. In 1905, BEW bought a grist mill on Toelles Road and Quinnipiac River water rights so it could construct a hydro-electric plant. It went into operation two years later and was destroyed by a fire in 1934.

BEW expanded its Washington Street campus in 1915 with the addition of the brick office building next to the plant. But in 1923, with limited generating capacity and rising demand, BEW commissioners decided to buy its power from CL&P while still managing the local utility.

Planning began for a new power plant in 1948, as a post-war population boom hit the town. In 1955, the Alfred L. Pierce Generating Station on East Street opened.

Even with the power plant running at capacity, the town still had to buy power from CL&P.

The Electric Division, as BEW was called by then, moved its offices to John Street in 1963, leaving behind both the old generating station and the office building on Washington Street.

Despite “buy-out wars” from CL&P and United Illuminating in the 1960s, the Electric Division remained town-owned. In 1995, the Electric Division stopped buying power from CL&P and joined the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative.

The buildings on Washington Street remained town-owned. By 2003, SCOW had moved into the old generating plant, according to Record-Journal archives.

The old BEW offices were used as the town’s emergency operations center during the 1980s.

Gaining the name Civil Defense building, it housed emergency communication equipment, the office of the Civil Defense director and second-floor classrooms.

Civil Defense changed its Cold War-era name to Civil Preparedness in 1975, now it’s called Emergency Management.

The building was last used for STEM Academy, a partnership between SCOW and the Youth And Social Services department offering programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Civil Defense building’s roof was compromised, and came off in some places, during a heavy snowfall with high winds in 2017.

The STEM Academy moved inside SCOW.

Twitter: @LCTakores

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